Water Conservation in Urban Environments

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Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 6:16 pm | Updated: 3:56 pm, Wed Jan 26, 2011.

By Michael Andresen

In today's market, energy efficiency is often the first thing that comes to mind when the topic of resource conservation or environmental stewardship is discussed. This could be attributed to the fact that rising energy costs are widely publicized and easily quantifiable. Water conservation on the other hand, is sometimes wrongfully overlooked as being a less important issue.

Water conservation strategies have dual focuses today; reducing water use by a building's occupants, and effectively managing stormwater on-site. For the occupants, water use reduction is achieved by specifying low-flow and ultra low-flow fixtures. This is an easy and cost effective strategy to reduce a facility's water consumption by nearly 40% when compared to traditional designs. Fixtures are competitively priced, readily available and have an immediate impact on a building's water use. As an example, code compliant urinals use one gallon of water per flush while ultra low-flow urinals can use as little as one pint (1/8 of a gallon).

When planning for stormwater management, it is important to consider two challenges; controlling the quantity of run-off, and providing opportunities for quality improvement through the treatment of run-off prior to entering a storm sewer system. For new construction projects and developments, stormwater retention requirements are the norm. Within any urban development effort, there are multiple opportunities to slow the quantity of water leaving a site and to improve its quality in the process. Effective stormwater strategies can reduce the rate and quantity of site run-off; reduce the demand on existing infrastructure; and potentially reduce a project's utility costs and municipal fees.

This topic will continue next week with an in-depth look at case studies incorporating a variety of water conservation measures including: rainwater harvesting, vegetated roof, rain gardens, permeable paving, and native plantings to achieve an overall cost savings for stormwater infrastructure.

Michael Andresen is a sustainable designer with RDG Planning & Design in Des Moines, and serves as a lecturer for the Iowa Department of Economic Development with a specific focus on sustainable development.  To date, Michael has managed the sustainable design process on over 2,000,000 square feet of new construction, including 14 LEED projects – four of which have achieved LEED Platinum Certification.  Michael is a past chair of the USGBC Green Schools Advocacy Committee, and has been recognized as a content expert by the Green Building Certification Institute; participating in item writing for the national release of the 2009 LEED Exams.

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